Failure Is…

A form of measurement.  As is success.  One means you did not meet your expectation and one means you did.

You set out to run one mile this afternoon.  If you ran one mile then you succeeded.  If you did not run one mile then you failed.  Simple.

There are two types of failure.  Escape failure and epic failure.

Escape failure is giving up ahead of time and not meeting your expectation.

You decided not to go on your run because you had a bad day.  That would be an escape fail.  You did not keep taking action to get the result you wanted (running one mile).

Epic failure is taking action, not giving up and still not meeting your expectation.

You put your tennis shoes on, warmed up, started running, and halfway through your run you had difficulty breathing and needed to slow down and catch your breath.  You realized you couldn’t run the rest of the mile because you didn’t bring your inhaler with you so you walked the rest of it.  That would be an epic fail.  You didn’t give up and kept taking action to get the result you wanted, even if you didn’t meet that expectation.

Failure Is Not…

Bad.  Failure and success are both forms of measurement.  Neither one is inherently good or inherently bad.  In fact, you get to decide if you think failure is positive or negative.  Maybe the majority would agree that failure is a bad thing, but this is where I’d like to invite you to open your mind to the idea that failure can actually be a good thing.

Let’s say you are learning how to parallel park.  You and your driving instructor go out to an empty parking lot to practice.  On your first try you nail it.  You parallel parked!  You met your expectation and had success so you and your driving instructor moved on to the next driving task.  

In an alternative universe, let’s say you tried that first time and didn’t get it.  You knocked over all of the cones.  You try again.  And again.  Your instructor gives you a tip or two after each failure.  He even does it one time to show you. You’re mentally taking notes the entire time.  And then finally you get it. You parallel parked.  Success!

Taking a step back from these examples, neither is better than the other.  In the first example, you didn’t have to spend a lot of time on the skill of parallel parking and were therefore able to spend more time on other driving skills.  In the second example, you learned so many tidbits about parallel parking, even with all the failures piling up.  Eventually you failed your way to success.

Failure Is Necessary…

For success.  Now, in our first example above about parallel parking, we proved that you don’t have to fail in order to succeed.  However, let’s take the example a step further.

You parallel parked the car on your first try and haven’t thought about it since.  Now, years later, you’re headed to a restaurant downtown.  You realize you have to parallel park, something you haven’t done since that empty parking lot years ago.  You vaguely remembering doing it, but that was in an empty parking lot with cones.  These are cars! You start to feel anxious and then notice the cars waiting behind you.  So, you decide to forget about it and drive away.

The alternative you who had to try many times to parallel park, is headed to the restaurant downtown.  You realize you have to parallel park, but haven’t done so since that empty parking lot.  You start to remember all the tips your driver instructor taught you and how confident you felt after finally succeeding all those years ago.  You start to park, but realize you judged the distance incorrectly and you remember how your instructor helped you fix that before so you back up and try again.  And then you do it! You parallel parked in front of the restaurant and man do you feel like a pro!

These examples may seem silly, but I want you to take into consideration that failure is not bad or negative.  Failure is a learning tool as well as a form of measurement.  It can be very helpful in creating confidence in yourself, to the point of meeting the expectations you’ve set, i.e. success.  

Even in the first example, where you gave up and drove away from the parking spot, there is something to be learned which will help you succeed next time.  You gave up, escape failed, and now you can look back at the event with curiosity to see why you gave up (see article: Stop Procrastinating for more on being curious).  Be curious about why you gave up and use that knowledge to help you succeed next time!

There is something to be learned from failure whether it’s epic failure or escape failure.  Did you give up ahead of time because you were afraid you would fail?  Take that escape fail as an opportunity to learn and then try again.  Did you do everything you possibly could and still didn’t meet your expectation?  Take that epic fail as an opportunity to learn and then try again.  

Hardly anyone succeeds at their huge, impossible goal on their first attempt.  So, if you’re going to try the impossible you HAVE to be open to failing.

One last thing; escape failing, giving up ahead of time, is still an opportunity to learn, but think about what will get you closer to achieving what you set out to do: giving up ahead of time or trying with everything you’ve got?  

Fail epically as often as possible.  All the way to success.

And don’t forget to be curious and have compassion for yourself.

407 thoughts on “Failing Your Way to Success

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